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Business

Another "outsider" fails in a profiled Boston job. We should not be proud of it.








I do not know if Luis Ramirez and Tommy Chang have ever crossed courses, but they will probably have a lot to talk about lunch.

Both came to Boston for professional jobs for successful careers elsewhere. Each of them fought to find their feet in a city that was infamous hostile to leaders from other places.

None of them – whether they knew it or not ̵[ads1]1; had a chance to succeed here.

Chang was released a few months ago after three years as Boston's school chief, and Ramirez left MBTA Tuesday.

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Government officials have been careful to avoid the word "kicked" with regard to Ramirez's exit, but his mutually agreed separation carried more than a passive resemblance to a firing. He was the fourth MBTA boss under governor Charlie Baker four years in office.


No real reason has been given for Ramirez to get the boot, but it came as a surprise to none. From the moment the bonuses in the contract were held pending further review, his leave was assumed to be just a matter of time.

Maybe Ramirez – who came to T without experience in running a public transport system – was not a good fit for the job. Obviously, running MBTA is one of the really tackeless jobs in the state. But he impressed enough to be employed after a nationwide search, and 15 months is an incredibly short time to be considered a failure. He did not even make the halfway point of his three-year, $ 320,000-year contract.

Ramirez joins a long list of "outsiders" who somehow failed to do if in Boston.

You may remember Beverly Scott, for example. Hired from fanfare from Atlanta, she ended up frustrating in the crazy winter in 2015, when a snowstorm after each other regularly brought T and the shuttle driver.

Scott was at least entertaining. In a folksy and honest press conference a few days before she finished, she said that "God Junior" would not be able to make T's advanced equipment run efficiently in the weather she was forced to cope with.

Ramirez, I am told, has made great efforts to improve the conditions for the workforce, and to try to increase customer service. But apparently it was not enough. Still, the question arises as to whether those who hired him really gave him support and time some newcomers would have needed to fully take the bulls in the agency and have some real impact.

And if only "traditional" leaders can succeed here, Boston will be pushed to build, or attract, the more diverse leadership it desperately needs.

The whole new question will be a moot point now. Ramirez will be replaced – permanent, no search needed – with a deep inside. Steve Poftak, Deputy Chairman of the T-Board, takes the helm on January 1st. He was temporary manager for two months before Ramirez came on board; Perhaps the Baker administration has concluded that they should have given him the job last time.

This is a crucial time for MBTA, with $ 8 billion in capital improvements planned for the next five years. This is the best opportunity this year to get T right. As a daily Red Line rider, I can tell you that there is a lot of work to do.

But Ramirez's "separation" – or what the correct word is – only reinforces Boston's reputation as an ecological place where only anchored insiders seem to have access to the secret codes required to succeed. I suspect it's actually a perverted sense of pride that outsiders do not seem to "get" Boston.

So Luis Ramirez is out. But is the lesson here that no-one can run Massport, who is currently looking for a new leader? Or Boston Public Schools, for that matter? We should not all hope.

Will Boston ever become a city that can look beyond itself for leadership?

Adrian Walker is a Globe column.
He can be reached at adrian.walker@globe.com.
Or follow him on Twitter @adrian_walker.



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